Legends and Fables from Around The World

June 3, 2007

The Shepherd, The Tiger and The Fox

Filed under: Central Asia — Edvan @ 2:51 pm

A shepherd brought his sheep into the field to graze, and sat down under a tree to rest. Suddenly a tiger came out of the woods.

The shepherd picked up his staff and jumped up.

The tiger was just about to spring at the man when he saw the staff and got frightened. He thought it was a gun. They stared at each other, and neither dared to make the first move.

At that moment, a fox came running by. He saw that the tiger and the shepherd were afraid of each other and decided to turn the situation to his own advantage.

He ran up to the tiger and said: “Cousin tiger, there is no reason to be afraid of a man. Jump on him, get him down, and have a good meal.”

“You’re cunning,” growled the tiger, “but you have no brains. Look at him—he has a gun. He’ll fire, and that will be the end of me. Be off with your stupid advice.”

“Well, if that’s the case, I’ll go and ask him not to shoot you. What will you give me if I save you?”

“Anything you ask.”

The fox ran to the shepherd and said: “Uncle shepherd, why are you standing here? The tiger wants to make a meal of you. I just persuaded him to wait a while. What will you give me if I save you?”

And the shepherd promised: “Anything you ask.”

The fox ran to the tiger and said: “Cousin tiger, you’ll have a long life. I just persuaded the shepherd not to shoot you. Hurry up and run now! I’ll see you later. If he gets angry again, he’ll fire his gun and it will be the end of you.”

The tiger turned and leaped away as fast as he could.

And the fox came back to the shepherd. “Uncle shepherd, you did not forget your promise?”

“No,” said the shepherd. “Tell me what you want.”

“I don’t want much, only a bite out of your leg. That will be enough for me.”

The shepherd stretched out his leg. But just as the fox was about to sink his teeth into it, the shepherd screamed. The fox jumped back.

“Who made that noise?”

“What do you care? Take your bite, and be done with it.”

“Oh, no! I won’t come near you before you tell me who made that noise,” said the frightened fox.
“In that case, I will tell you,” answered the shepherd. “Last year we had a bad winter in the village. We had nothing to eat. And then my sheep dog had two puppies. Well . . . I was so hungry, I ate them. Now the pups have grown up in my stomach. I guess they smell you and want to get at you, so they are barking.”

The fox got even more frightened, but he would not show it. He said with dignity: “I’d have no trouble handling your pups. But I must run and see the tiger on some urgent business. Hold back your sheep dogs for a while. When I come back, I’ll teach them such a lesson that they will never attack foxes again.

“Very well, make it quick,” said the shepherd.

And the fox went streaking off into the woods, happy to get away with his life.

After he caught his breath, he set out to look for the tiger: perhaps he would have better luck with him.

“Well, cousin tiger,” the fox said when he found him. “I saved your life when you were frightened of the shepherd, and you made a promise. Now you must keep it!”

“What promise?” roared the tiger. “I am no cousin to you. I am the shah of these woods. Who dares to say that I was frightened?”

And he raised his paw to strike the fox down.

“There is no gratitude in this world,” the fox said to himself, and slunk into his hole to teach his children to stay away from men and tigers.

The Kaha Bird

Filed under: Central Asia — Edvan @ 2:48 pm

Once upon a time there lived an old fisherman. Early in the morning he would go down to the river and sit there fishing all day. And in the evening, when he counted his catch, there never would be more than a fish or two. He sold the fish in the market and bought a little food for himself and his wife. And almost every day they went to bed half hungry.

One morning he went down to the river to fish, when suddenly a beautiful great bird with shiny silver plumage flew in from somewhere and sat down on the tree above him. This was not an ordinary bird—it was the magical Kaha bird herself, who often helped poor people when they were in trouble.

The Kaha watched the fisherman as he waited and waited until he caught a tiny little fish. Then she asked him: “What will you do with this fish, grandpa?”

“I’ll take it to market and sell it, so I can buy a piece of bread for myself and my old wife.”

The bird took pity on the old man. “You have worked and suffered long enough,” she said to him. “I shall bring yon a big fish every night. You will get a lot of money for it, and you and your wife won’t have to live in poverty any more.”

At midnight the Kaha bird came flying with a large fish and dropped it in the old man’s yard.
In the morning the old fisherman cut the big fish into pieces, fried them and took them to the market to sell.

From that day on the Kaha bird came every night and brought the old man a big fish. Little by little the old man, who had been so poor, became quite rich, and even bought himself a house with a garden.

One day, when he brought his fish to market, he heard the crier of the shah himself shouting for all to hear: “Our shah has heard about a marvelous, magical Kaha bird. Whoever tells him where to find this bird will get half of his kingdom and fifty bags of gold.”

The old man jumped up from his place to tell the crier that he knew where the bird could be found. But then he thought: “This bird has saved me from poverty and hunger. How can I betray her?” And he sat down again.

“Still,” he said to himself, “it would be nice to be the lord of half the kingdom,” and he stood up again.

And so he argued with himself, getting up and sitting down, getting up and sitting down, until the crier saw him and dragged the old man to the palace, before the shah himself.

“This old man knows where to find the Kaha bird!” he cried.

And the shah said to the fisherman: “If you know about the Kaha bird, tell me where to find her. I’ve grown blind, and no known remedies have helped me. But a wise healer from a distant land has told me that if I wash my eyes in the blood of the Kaha bird, I will regain my sight at once. Help me to find the bird, and I will give you half my kingdom and fifty bags of gold!”

And the old man, overcome with greed, said: “Mighty Shah, the Kaha bird comes to my yard at midnight every night and brings me a big fish.”

The shah rejoiced and told him: “Well, then, you must catch her for me!”

But the old man said: “No, the Kaha bird is large and strong. I’ll never be able to catch her myself. To catch and hold her will take more than a hundred men.”

“I’ll send four hundred of my servants with you,” said the shah. “Hide them under the tree where the bird sits down. They will know how to catch and hold her.

“No,” said the old man. “You cannot catch her that way. You can’t use force, you must be cunning. When she comes to me, I shall prepare a feast and then persuade her to come down on earth. Then we shall catch her.”

The shah sent four hundred servants with the fisherman. He hid them under the branches of the tree where the Kaha bird always alighted. The servants sat and waited, without moving hand or foot.

And the old man spread a rug near the tree and set out all sorts of delicacies to tempt the Kaha bird. As soon as the bird came, he spoke to her: “My dear friend, dear Kaha bird! Thanks to you I have grown rich and happy, and yet I’ve never even asked you to dine with me. Come down and do me the honor of sharing my meal!”

At first the Kaha bird refused, but he begged her so sweetly and so cunningly, that she began to waver. For a moment she wondered: “Why is he begging me so much? What if he has some evil thing in mind?” But then she answered herself: “What can he do to me, he is so old and weak! Besides, I have done him so much good.” And so, ashamed of her suspicions, she came down from the tree and sat down on the rug next to the old man.

He set all the fine dishes before her: “My dearest friend, beloved Kaha! Eat! Try this, and now try that! I have prepared it all myself with love and gratitude!”

But as soon as the Kaha bird began to peck at the food in the dish, he caught her by the feet and cried: “I have her! Come out, come out, quick!”

The shah’s four hundred servants leaped out and rushed toward the bird. But the huge bird merely spread her wings and rose into the air, with the old man hanging onto her feet and shouting: “I have her, I have her!”

Then one of the shah’s servants jumped up and caught the old man’s feet to pull them down. But he, too, rose above the ground. A second servant caught him by the feet. A third caught the second. A fourth caught the third. A fifth caught the fourth, until the old man and all the shah’s four hundred servants hung by one another’s feet, while the Kaha bird rose higher and higher, right up into the clouds.

At this moment, the old man looked down, but he could no longer see the earth. “Oh-h!” he cried and everything turned dark before his eyes. His fingers loosed their hold on the bird’s feet, and he plunged down and down and down. And with him, all the shah’s four hundred servants. Down they came and smashed themselves to bits.

And the magical great Kaha bird returned to her kingdom in the clouds, and no man ever saw her again.

The Silken Tassel

Filed under: Central Asia — Edvan @ 2:43 pm

There was a girl called Torko-Chachak, which means “Silken Tassel.” Her eyes were like wild cherries, her brows were like two rainbows. Into her braids she plaited seashells from distant lands, and on her hat there was a silken tassel, white as moonlight.

One day the father of Silken Tassel fell ill, and her mother said to her: “Get up on the bay horse and hurry to the bank of the rushing river. There, in a tent made of birchbark, you will find the shaman Teldekpei. Ask him to come here and to cure your father.”

The girl leaped up on the bay horse with the white star on his forehead, took in her right hand the leather reins with silver rings and in her left, the lash with a finely carved bone handle. The bay horse galloped fast, the reins shook up and down, the harness tinkled merrily.

Old Teldekpei sat at the threshold of his birchbark tent. With a sharp knife, he was carving a round cup out of a piece of birchwood. He heard the merry clattering of hooves, the ringing of the harness. He raised his eyes and saw the girl on the bay horse.

She sat proudly in the high saddle, the silken tassel fluttered in the wind, the seashells sang in her thick braids.

The knife dropped from the shaman’s hand, the cup rolled into the fire.

“Grandfather,” said the girl. “My father is sick, come help us.”

“I will cure your father, Silken Tassel, if you will marry me.” The shaman’s eyebrows were like moss, his white beard, like a thorny shrub.

Frightened, Silken Tassel pulled the reins and galloped off.

“At dawn tomorrow I will come to you!” the shaman called after her.

The girl came home, entered the tent and said: “Old Teldekpei will be here tomorrow at dawn.”
The stars had not yet melted in the sky, the people in the camp had not yet set the milk out to ferment, the meat in the kettles had not yet been cooked, and the fine white rugs were not yet spread upon the ground when there was a loud clattering of hooves.

The oldest of the elders came out to welcome the mighty shaman Teldekpei.

He sat atop a shaggy horse with a back as wide as a mountain yak’s. Silently, looking at no one, he dismounted, and, greeting no one, he went into the tent. The old men brought in after him the eighty-pound robe in which he worked his magic and put it down on the white rug. They hung his tambourine upon a wooden peg and made a fire of fragrant juniper twigs under it.

All day, from dawn to sunset, the shaman sat without lifting his eyelids, without moving, without uttering a word.

Late at night Teldekpei stood up and pulled his red shaman’s hat down to his eyebrows. Two owl feathers stood up in his hat like ears; red strips of cloth fluttered behind it like two wings. Large glass beads fell upon his face like hail. Groaning, he lifted from the rug his eighty-pound robe and put his hands into the stiff, hard sleeves. Along the sides of the robe hung frogs and snakes woven of magic grasses. Feathers of woodpeckers were stuck into its back.

The Shaman took his tambourine from the peg and struck it with a wooden stick. A booming noise filled the tent, like a mountain storm in winter. The people stood about chilled with fear. The shaman danced and swayed and worked his magic, the bells rang, and the tambourine clashed and moaned and thundered. Then sudden silence fell. The tambourine moaned for the last time, and everything was still.

Teldekpei sank onto the white rug, wiped the sweat off his brow with his sleeve, straightened his tangled beard with his fingers, took the heart of a goat from a tray, ate it, and said: “Drive out Silken Tassel. An evil spirit resides in her. While she is in the camp, her father will not get up from his illness. Misfortune will not leave this valley. Little children will fall asleep forever; their fathers and grandfathers will die in torment.”

The women of the camp fell down upon the ground in fear. The old men pressed their hands over their eyes with grief. The young men looked at Silken Tassel; twice they turned red, and twice they turned pale.

“Put Silken Tassel into a wooden barrel,” the shaman boomed. “Bind the barrel with nine iron hoops. Nail down the bottom with copper nails, and throw the barrel into the rushing river.”

He said this, mounted his shaggy horse, and rode off to his own white tent.

“Hey!” he shouted to his slaves. “Go to the river! The water will bring down a large barrel. Catch it and bring it here, then run into the woods. If you hear weeping, do not turn back. If cries and moans spread through the woods, do not look back. Do not return to my tent in less than three days.”

For seven days and seven nights the people of the encampment could not bring themselves to carry out the shaman’s orders. For seven days and seven nights they bid the girl farewell. On the eighth day they put Silken Tassel into a wooden barrel, bound it with nine iron hoops, nailed down the bottom with copper nails, and threw the barrel into the rushing river.

On that day a young fisherman called Balykchi sat on the steep bank of the river some distance from the camp.

He saw the barrel, caught it, brought it into his hut, picked up an axe, and knocked out the bottom. When he saw the girl, the hand that held the axe dropped, and his heart leaped like a grasshopper. At last he asked the girl: “What is your name?”

“Silken Tassel—Torko-Chachak.”

The girl climbed out of the barrel and bowed low to the fisherman.

“Who put you into the barrel?”

“The shaman Teldekpei said that it must be done.”

The fisherman whistled for his dog, fierce as a mountain lion, put him into the barrel, nailed down the bottom with copper nails, and let the barrel float downstream.

The shaman’s slaves pulled out the barrel, brought it to the white birchbark tent, put it before the old wizard, and ran away into the woods.

But even before they reached the woods, they heard the shaman call: “Help! Help!”

But the slaves did everything he had bidden. They heard shouts, but did not turn back. They heard moaning and cries, but did not look back. For such were their master’s orders.

Three days later they returned from the woods. The shaman lay on the ground, more dead than alive. His clothes were torn to shreds, his beard was bloody and tangled, his eyebrows were shaggier than ever.

And Torko-Chachak remained with the young fisherman in the green hut. But Balykchi did not go out fishing any more. He would pick up the rod and take two steps toward the river, then look back at the girl on the threshold, and his feet carried him back to her. He could not get enough of gazing at Silken Tassel.

And so the girl took a piece of birchbark and painted her face on it with the juice of flowers and berries. She nailed the birchbark to a stick and put the stick into the ground right by the water. Now the fisherman was not so lonely by the river. The painted Torko-Chachak looked at him as if she were alive.

One day Balykchi looked at the picture and did not notice when a large fish caught his bait. The rod slipped from his hand and knocked down the stick, and the birchbark fell into the water and floated away.

When the girl heard this, she wept and wailed, she rubbed her brows with her hands, she tangled her braids with her fingers. “Whoever finds the birchbark will come here! Hurry, hurry, Balykchi, and try to catch it! Turn your goatskin coat with the fur outside, get up on the blue ox, and ride as fast as he will go along the riverbank.”

Balykchi put on his goatskin coat with the fur outside. He mounted the blue ox and galloped off along the riverbank. But the painted birchbark floated down and down, faster and faster. Balykchi could not catch it.

The water brought the birchbark to the mouth of the river. Here it got tangled in a willow branch and hung over the rapid current.

At the mouth of that river, the camp of rich and cruel Kara-Khan spread far and wide over endless fields and meadows. Innumerable herds of cattle, white and red, were grazing in the tall grass.

The shepherds noticed the white birchbark in the willows. They came down nearer and stared at it, enchanted. Their hats were blown off by the wind and floated down the current. Their herds wandered away and scattered in the woods.

“What is this?” thundered Kara-Khan, riding up to his shepherds. “Hey, lazy good-for-nothings! What holiday is this? Whose wedding are you celebrating?”

He raised his nine-tailed lash, but suddenly he saw the birchbark, and the lash dropped from his hand.

A girl looked at him from the birchbark. Her lips were like a newly opened scarlet flower, her eyes were like wild cherries, her brows like two rainbows, her lashes like arrows that struck the heart.

He snatched the birchbark, put it into the bosom of his coat, and shouted in a terrifying voice:

“Hey, you! Mighty fighters, strong men, warriors, heroes! Get on your horses at once! If we don’t find this girl, I’ll kill you with my spear, I’ll shoot you with my arrows, I’ll have you thrown into boiling water!”

He touched the reins and galloped off upstream. Behind him came an army of warriors, clanking their heavy armor of red copper and yellow bronze.

Behind the army rode the stablemen leading a white stallion that was as fast as thought.

At the sight of this dread army, Silken Tassel did not cry and did not laugh. Silently she mounted the white stallion with the pearl-embroidered saddle.

And so, without crying, without laughing, without saying a word to anyone, without answering anyone, Torko-Chachak sat in the khan’s tent.

Suddenly, one sunny morning, she sprang outside, clapped her hands, and laughed, and sang!

Kara-Khan looked where she was looking, ran where she was running, and saw a young man in a goatskin coat turned inside out mounted on a blue ox.

“So it was he who made you laugh, Silken Tassel? Why, I can do the same. I can also put on this ragged coat. I can also mount the blue ox without fear. Then smile as gaily to me, sing to me as merrily!”

And Kara-Khan tore the goatskin coat from Balykchi’s shoulders, went over to the blue ox, picked up the reins, and put his foot into the iron stirrup.

“Moo-oo! Moo-oo!” bellowed the ox, and, giving the khan no time to swing his right foot over the saddle, he dragged him off over the hills and valleys.

Kara-Khan’s black cruel liver burst with shame. His round cruel heart burst with rage.

And Silken Tassel took the poor fisherman Balykchi by the right hand, and together they returned to their green hut.

May you, too, find the happiness they found, for this is the end of our tale.

Living Water

Filed under: Central Asia — Edvan @ 2:38 pm

This happened a long, long time ago, when the cedar, the fir, and the pine still had needles that yellowed and dropped in the fall instead of staying green all winter.

Once in those olden times a Tofalar went out into the woods to hunt. He walked and walked, and he came farther than any hunter had ever dared to go. He saw a bog so vast that no beast could have crossed it, no bird could have flown across.

And the Tofalar said to himself: “If our animals can’t run across this bog, and our birds cannot fly across it, what kinds of animals and birds live on the other side?”

The more he thought about it, the more curious he became.

“I must find out,” he said to himself. “Whatever happens, I must get there.

And so he took a good running start, and leaped right clear across the bog. He looked around: the same earth, the same grass, the same trees.

“Silly!” he said. “There was no need to jump.”

Suddenly his mouth dropped open with wonder.

In a little clearing stood seven harnessed rabbits. They stood quietly, waiting. Then seven people came out of seven burrows in the earth, exactly like all people, only tiny. When the rabbits flattened their ears, the people were taller than the rabbits. When the rabbits’ ears stood up, the people were smaller than the rabbits.

“Who are you?” asked the Tofalar. “We are immortal people,” said the tiny men. “We wash ourselves in living water, and we never die. And who are you?”

“I am a hunter.”

The little men clapped their hands with joy.

“Oh, good! Oh, good!” they cried in chorus.

And one of them, the eldest, with white hair and a long white beard, came forward and said: “A terrible, huge beast has come into our land. We don’t know where it came from. The other day it caught one of our people and killed him. We are immortal, we never die ourselves, but this beast killed one of us. You are a hunter—can you help us in this trouble? Can you hunt down the beast?”

“Why not?” answered the Tofalar, but to himself he wondered: “Will I be able to kill such a frightful beast?”

However, he went out to track the beast. He looked and he looked, but could find nothing except rabbits’ footprints. Suddenly, among the rabbit prints he noticed the track of a sable.

“Oh, that’s too fine a quarry to miss,” he said. “First I will get the sable, and then I’ll go on looking for the terrible, huge beast.”

He found the sable and killed it. Then he skinned it and went on with his search. He walked the length and breadth of the little people’s land, but could not find any trace of the beast.

So he came back to the little people and said to them: “I could not find your terrible, huge beast. All I have found was this sable.” And he showed them the little sable skin.

“That’s it, that’s it!” they cried. “Oo-h, what a huge skin, what thick paws, what terrible, sharp claws!” And the eldest of the little men said to the Tofalar:

“You have saved us and our people! And we shall pay for your kindness with kindness. Wait for us. We’ll come to visit you and bring you living water. You’ll wash in it and will become immortal too.”

The Tofalar jumped back across the bog and went back to his valley and told his people about the little men.

And the Tofalars began to wait for their guests, the immortal little men.

They waited one day, two days, three days, many, many days. But the guests did not come, and the Tofalars forgot about them and their promise.

Winter came. Everything around was frozen. And the bog was covered with a coat of ice.

One day the village women went to the woods to gather firewood. Suddenly they saw a little herd of rabbits galloping their way. They looked again, and saw that every rabbit was saddled, and in every saddle sat a tiny man with a little pitcher in his hands. The women burst out laughing at the sight.

“Look, look!” they cried to one another. “They are riding on rabbits!”

“And look at the little men, how funny!”

“Oh, what a joke!”

“Oh, I’ll die laughing!”

Now, the immortal people were a proud race. They took offense at this reception. The one in front, with white hair and a long beard, shouted something to the others, and all of them spilled out the contents of their pitchers onto the ground. Then the rabbits turned and hopped away so fast that you could only see their white tails flicker.

And so the Tofalars never got the living water. It went instead to the pine, the cedar, and the fir. And this is why they are fresh and green all through the year. Their needles never die.

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